This is a rant. Maybe a vent. Not sure the difference but here it is anyway.
A colleague contacted me today asking whether I knew of someone who could help support a middle school child with autism. The person was needed at school from arrival until the end of the day including lunch, recess, specials…you get the picture. These positions are generally advertised on school district websites or placed on Craigslist, but this individual was looking to me for a person with experience and training in this arena. When I asked what the position was paying, I’d like to say I was shocked but I wasn’t. I just shook my head in disbelief (as I’ve done many times before) at the continued lack of understanding about the importance of this role. Not to mention the pathetic compensation.
An aide for a child with special needs is like a limb. The child can maneuver without it but not nearly as well. And surely not well enough to compensate for whatever deficits exist. So like a limb, it’s essential to understand how it works, its purpose…and its worth. Hard to imagine putting a price tag on an arm but when it comes to an aide in school, that’s exactly what’s happening. And the current price tag isn’t even close to hitting the bar.
I know all too well about school districts cutting budgets and services, that music and art departments have been eliminated, and that many school-based activities no longer exist. I also know that educating – and this is more than academics – children requiring special supports in school is not an option but a requirement. This means aides for many children and the role these individuals play have been undervalued for far too long.
Paying an aide $7.50, $9.00, or $11.25 per hour to teach, reteach, coach, mentor, monitor, guide, support, supervise, advocate, run interference, capture data, collaborate with teachers, and communicate with parents is insanity. Pet walkers are paid $15-$25/hour (and as I’ve said before, I have nothing against pets). I could list any number of roles or positions paid more than aides. But here we’re talking about a person who often remains closest to a child who is struggling in school and needs the best (yes, I know … “appropriate”) supports possible, and are asking them to undertake herculean tasks for pennies.
For many children and teens with autism, learning disabilities, or behavioral challenges, their success – no, their ability to make it from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. – is often dependent upon the support and expertise of a single person who is expected to work wonders while wondering about their worth. As I’ve said about many things regarding the needs of children struggling in school, “it’s not a nicety, but a necessity.” And this certainly applies to aides. It’s not all about the money – many become aides to make a difference in the life of children, but when we’re talking about an adjunct to a child, we can and must do far better. The success of our children in school and beyond depends upon it.